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A little something for perspective

Do you think your work environment sucks?  I used to think that I worked at a Dilbertesque company:

1)  Air conditioning was routinely shut down on weekends.  (What a way to motivate your employees to work extra hours, right?)

2)  Upper management decided one day that people were spending too much time in meetings.  Wednesdays were thus decreed to be meeting-free days.  However, "underground" meetings started popping up on Wednesdays, because that became the day when people were most likely to be available for meetings.

However, these two anecdotes pale when compared to the Newark, New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services:

=========================

[...]

Until last week, the electronic office keys issued to caseworkers were programmed to forbid them access to the building on weekends, and those workers who remained after 5 p.m. could not unlock the bathrooms.

[...]

Inside the cramped offices of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services in Newark, the signs of chaos are not subtle.

Caseworkers assigned to investigate allegations of child abuse sit before broken computer terminals and beside file cabinets crammed with infant formula, baby shampoo and economy-size tubs of diaper-rash ointment. In a daily rush, runaways, counselors, troubled parents, social workers, abused children, nurses and bureaucrats all hurry through hallways where case folders are stacked openly in haphazard piles against the wall.

Pillars throughout the office display the kind of handwritten notices commonly seen on telephone poles announcing a rummage sale or lost pet. "Missing file," the signs read, then list the names and case numbers of people whose problems the state has lost track of amid the relentless crush of new crises.

The disarray plaguing New Jersey's child welfare system, and its potential consequences, became tragically apparent earlier this month, when a 7-year-old, Faheem Williams, was found dead in the same basement of a home in north Newark where two of his bothers had been locked in, starving and beaten.

=========================

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/21/nyregion/21NEWA.html

J. D. Trollinger
Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Thats what happens with gov't run agencies. Typical situations with social services, schools, etc.  Not affliated with big money? Well then you don't get any.

Take Niagara Falls (NY) High School for example:

http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&threadm=8qd4n2%24d5g%240%40dosa.alt.net&rnum=1&prev=/groups%3Fq%3Dniagara%2Bfalls%2Bprivate%2Bschool%26ie%3DUTF-8%26oe%3DUTF-8%26hl%3Den

This would never happen with out intervention of a private party. 

apw
Wednesday, January 22, 2003

apw -

Being aware of some of the fiasco's surrounding Edison School's privatization of several school districts, I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that private corporations are the answer.

The fundamental problem (imo) is that Things Cost Money. Hiring (enough) good people costs money. Hiring competent managers costs money. And so on.

Social services are intended to help those without (or with less) money. People who vote on taxes and municipal budgets tend to have more money.

The excuses go something like this:

"Funding a department to keep track of kids whose parents are in jail (DYFS)? Well I don't know any; can't be that important; veto the budget increase."

"More money for education? Sure I make a lot, but my kids are grown up. Why should I pay the public school teachers more; what does it get me?"

Then a high-profile screw-up puts the spotlight on, and everyone runs around to assign blame. Fundamentally, the problem is chronic underfunding. You never get more than what you pay for.

Devil's Advocate
Wednesday, January 22, 2003



>1) Air conditioning was routinely shut down on weekends. (What a way to motivate your employees to work extra hours, right?)

This kills me. Why would you WANT to be motivated to work extra hours?

I mean, if you can't get the required work done in the given 40 hour week, then there's been a scheduling/estimation screw up, right?

If you keep compensating for this, then there's no incentive for them to fix the problem, is there?

Bruce Rennie
Wednesday, January 22, 2003

"More money for education? Sure I make a lot, but my kids are grown up. Why should I pay the public school teachers more; what does it get me?"

Public Education doesn’t need more money. The U.S. spends more money on education per student than just about any country on the face of the planet.

One example is Washington, D.C. that spends $7,389 per student per year. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/dc/schools/schools1.htm)
They have some of the worst test scores in the nation.

The TIMSS (http://nces.ed.gov/timss/) project proved that our education system is not second rate. It’s more like 37th rate. That’s how far behind the rest of the world we are in education while at the same time spending the most money. Throwing money at education will not help.

The facts show that public education is failing miserably. Here’s a story that’s one example of some of the problems in public education: http://www.city-journal.org/html/13_1_how_i_joined.html

We run our schools like communist Russia ran their factories. It’s stupid beyond belief.

Catholic private schools spend half what public schools spend per student and do phenomenally better.

The ‘expert’ teachers with bachelors degrees cannot even compare with the ‘un’ educated mothers who homeschool their children.

What we need in public education is competition. Competition has given us the best heath care in the world. It has given us the best products in the world. If we can get the teachers union out of the way, competition could give us the best schools in the world.

Teachers Unions have a practical racism because they oppose school choice. School choice would benefit the inner cities the most.

A Cartesian product type mountain of data backs up the school choice perspective. Be pro-choice. Vote for vouchers.

Pro-Parental-Choice-In-Education
Wednesday, January 22, 2003

I just love this kind of thread.

Full of embedded superiority though :

'Competition has given us the best health care in the world. It has given us the best products in the world.'

I won't argue about these two points because their inaccuracy is so obvious (about products, just look at the US commercial balance http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade).

I think one of americas biggest problem is the ability of it's people to believe they are doing 'the best possible' without even trying to look outside.

It's so convenient to believe, but I'm sorry it's not true.

I truly believe United States are a great country, but please open the eyes, there's a world you might learn from.

Ralph Chaléon
Thursday, January 23, 2003

>>>>>>>>>>The U.S. spends more money on education per student than just about any country on the face of the planet.<<<<<<<<<<

Yea, but look what is spends it on. When Ross Perot was in politics possibly the only intelligent statement he made was to promise that education money would be spent on education as opposed to school and college sport.

The American health care system is possilby the most expensive in the world, yet we see pensioners doing ten hour bus journeys to Mexico or Canada to buy their medicine because it's so much cheaper there, and the infant mortality rate is higher than Cubas.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, January 23, 2003

"What we need in public education is competition. Competition has given us the best heath care in the world. It has given us the best products in the world. If we can get the teachers union out of the way, competition could give us the best schools in the world."

Whoa, dogma alert!  To your credit, Pro, you didn't actually *say* the words "free market."  Somehow, though, I managed to fill them in.

Tell me, would this be the same sort of "competition" that's given us highly safe, fuel-efficient cars, and universal health care?

Sure, "competition" can be good for getting cabbage where it needs to go, but markets (er, wait, "competitive arenas") are prone to the same sort of local optimization that Joel complains about within individual companies, and let's face it, they really suck at delivering intangibles like "justice" and "equality."

And speaking of justice, let's bring the benefits of competition to the legal system, shall we?  I'd be greatly comforted to know that if I develop a product that competes with Microsoft, I don't have to worry about being bought out by them -- because it's cheaper for Bill to just drag me through the criminal justice system.  (Oh, wait, something like that already happened... remember Dmitry Sklyarov?)

The thing I really love about school vouchers is that they're the best of both worlds.  You get to do something you're already absolutely free to do -- send your kid to a private school with values more in line with your own -- but as a bonus, you get to use my money to do it.  It's the best of both worlds!  But it's not exactly "free market" economics... which may be why Pro was so careful not to use that term.

I'll agree with one thing, though.  Competition really could give us the best schools in the world -- the kind of competition that would result if our country would double teacher's salaries across the board.  If I could make $80k teaching computers to kids, I'd jump on that in a heartbeat -- and so would a lot of other experienced professionals.  I wonder what might happen to the quality of our school system then?

Sam Gray
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Sorry to drag it back on topic, but how about a private commercial company that takes away a brilliant drinks machine (that made freshly brewed coffee and tea to order and to suit a variety of tastes), and justifies it on the grounds (excuse the pun) that it was costing 20-30 cents a cup?

What replaced it? A hodge-podge of cafetieres, filter machines and instant coffee that cause waste of materials, waste of time, and don't please anyone except the person who made it to suit their own taste.

How much of a developer's time do you get for 30 cents?  How happy is a developer with no coffee?  (OK, OK, assuming that said developer likes coffee.)

Of course the time and morale costs don't show on the balance sheet - no such headings.

Money attracts bean counters, and they will justify their own existence by "cutting costs" no matter how expensive that may be.

Attending the wake
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Soooo... If competition is so damned effective, how come there was that big dot com crash? Why is it still going affecting the stock market? Why do we need central government to fix interest rates low in order to avoid recession?

Neil E
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Pro, did you even read the article you referenced? There was nothing in there to indicate that teachers unions were a problem. Teachers unions are usually found arguing for more ability to discipline student, better training in classroom management, and better protection for teachers against frivolous lawsuits.

David Clayworth
Thursday, January 23, 2003

>>> Sorry to drag it back on topic, ... <<<

Which was..???

Oh,  yeah, something about however bad your work environment there is someplace where it is worse.  To approximately quote Dilbert, "I wept because I had no office, then I met a man who had no cubicle".

It may be good to keep things in perspective, but those people who accept their current condition because someone else is worse off never do much to improve the human condition let alone their own.


>>> How much of a developer's time do you get for 30 cents? <<<

About 15 seconds.

Meanwhile, this thread has degenerated to a political flame fest.  One might hope for more rational discussion from people working in a technical field, but there is not much evidence for it here.

z
Thursday, January 23, 2003

"Soooo... If competition is so damned effective, how come there was that big dot com crash? Why is it still going affecting the stock market? Why do we need central government to fix interest rates low in order to avoid recession?"

Small economic downturns in the USA tend to become long drawn out blood baths because corporations believe layoffs are the answer to their problems.  But it is rare that a company emerges from a layoff being strong and profitable.  Each layoff promotes a chain reaction of decreased productive activity within the company and the economy, which in turn stimulates more layoffs. Rinse and Repeat.

T. Norman
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Ooops. sorry. was looking for that Joel on Software discussion forum. Obviously this ain't it.


Thursday, January 23, 2003

There isn't anything really virtuous about competition itself.  Competition just makes greed and short-sighted exploitation more a necessary part of day-to-day business.
Competition introduces that Darwinian pressure that ensures that only the fit survive.  Okay, survival of the fittest is not so bad for the already-fit; but if you're a child in an unfit district, well, nothing's gonna change for you, you're only gonna get bitch-slapped by the almighty Invisible Hand.  Competition will just make sure there's a few more vultures out there to pick the meat off the bones from the kids that just aren't profitable enough to educate.

Oh, and we already *have* school choice.  Private schools exist and you can send your kids to them.  You want a rebate check on your property taxes, that's another thing.  Hell, I don't even have kids, where's my check?  Can I get a rebate check for all the miles of roads I don't drive?  Tax system don't work that way.  In any public good, some of us get more benefit from it and some of us benefit less.

Alyosha`
Friday, January 24, 2003

"But it is rare that a company emerges from a layoff being strong and profitable.  Each layoff promotes a chain reaction of decreased productive activity within the company and the economy, which in turn stimulates more layoffs."

When my former employer announced that it would save $7 million dollars a year by laying off one-quarter of its employees, I was tempted to suggest they should lay off the other three-quarters and save a total of $28 mil a year ... in fact, if it were not prohibited by the laws of mathematics, they should have laid off more employees than they actually had, and maybe they could have turned a profit for the year ...

It was true though that they overhired in the heady days of 1999 and 2000.  Still, I think this blood-loss would not have been so severe if they had given employees the option of taking a pay cut.  At first it was necessary to remove some of the dead weight, but after the third or fourth round of firings the company must have started to cut into its brain trust.  A company can't afford to summarily dismiss its best and most talented workers; it would be better to lose some through voluntary attrition ...

Alyosha`
Friday, January 24, 2003

"When my former employer announced that it would save $7 million dollars a year by laying off one-quarter of its employees, I was tempted to suggest they should lay off the other three-quarters and save a total of $28 mil a year ... in fact, if it were not prohibited by the laws of mathematics, they should have laid off more employees than they actually had, and maybe they could have turned a profit for the year ..."

Shorting on employee layoffs? Now there's an idea!

Max Hadley
Friday, January 24, 2003

Ops. Not trying to say anything negative about other countries. Hard to remember sometimes that this is an international forum. Part of a healthy self esteem nationally is thinking good about your country. It doesn't mean that other countries don't have things to think good about themselves. Even people in the poorest countries have something that they can think that's good about their country (lately it seems like a common one is "At least we're not the U.S.").

In fact I said some very good things about other countries, at least 37 or so countries have an educational program that is superior to ours. That's should hardly be offensive to someone from another country. We say "We're 37th!" you say, "How can you be so proud?!"

I do not have the time, unfortunately, to put all the research into this little newsgroup/blog/whatever, but yes, the teachers unions are not really *for* kids learning basic skills (like reading, math, science), they are *for* jobs and money. If you don't know this, it is because you have not read what teachers unions have put out in way of press for the past ten or more years and what they have done. The reflexive thing the union says is if you don't want to spend more money on education, you don't care about educating our children. Teachers unions do not want to reform education, unless that means no real change and lots more money.

In the places where vouchers have been tried, they have had great sucess actually teaching things to children.

Some of you will never take my word for this, but I can't spend my life posting things to the Internet to help someone who doesn't understand.

And if I'm going to spend property tax money *and*  income tax money (the federal government spends *huge* amounts of money on education) to teach our nation's children something, I at least want them to be learning stuff. I'd be happy if they could learn to read in large numbers. Since minorities, especially black young people, leave high school in large part unable to *read*, I think we ought to hire somebody different than the people who have failed for the past twenty years to do something about it!

Pro-Parental-Choice-In-Education
Sunday, January 26, 2003

"And if I'm going to spend property tax money *and*  income tax money (the federal government spends *huge* amounts of money on education) to teach our nation's children something, I at least want them to be learning stuff. I'd be happy if they could learn to read in large numbers. Since minorities, especially black young people, leave high school in large part unable to *read*, I think we ought to hire somebody different than the people who have failed for the past twenty years to do something about it!"

I can't speak for anyone else, but I learned to read and write (and program) in public school.  Public school always did right by me.  I had some great teachers.  Of course I had the advantage of having a good home life and somewhat supportive parents.  I'm convinced that most students who fail at school have parents who have failed them at home first ... either they just don't care about their children, or they are outright abusive towards them; whatever the reason, these kids have grown up without any love for learning whatsoever -- and if a child has no desire to learn, God himself couldn't educate them.

Alyosha`
Sunday, January 26, 2003

Alyosha' wrote, "Public school always did right by me.  I had some great teachers."

I'd bet that the second sentence caused the first.

Brent P. Newhall
Monday, January 27, 2003

Holden Caulfield (the main character from _Catcher in the Rye_) describes his school:

============

Where I want to start telling [my story] is the day I left Pencey Prep.  Pencey Prep is this school that's in Agerstown, Pennsylvania.  You probably heard of it.  You've probably seen the ads, anyway.  They advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hot-shot guy on a horse jumping over a fence.  Like as if all you ever did at Pencey was play polo all the time.  I never even once saw a horse anywhere _near_ the place.  And underneath the guy on the horse's picture, it always says:  "Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men."  Strictly for the birds.  They don't do any damn more _molding_ at Pencey than they do at any other school.  And I didn't know anybody there that was splendid and clear-thinking and all.  Maybe two guys.  If that many.  And they probably _came_ to Pencey that way.

==============

Alex Chernavsky
Monday, January 27, 2003

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